Laughter as medicine

Sophia Battaglia

Photo by Vic Cantu

At age 18, Sophia Battaglia learned the power of laughter. She’d moved from Santa Cruz to New York, was working for a real estate company, and every morning she walked around the office and handed each employee a flower, looked them in the eyes and laughed heartily with them. This boosted morale, prompting her boss to double her pay, she says. That experience was a life lesson she brought with her when she moved to Paradise to care for an ailing family member. Today, the married mother of four boys runs Mecca Market Place, an indoor farmers’ market on the Ridge. And for the past decade, she’s taught laughter yoga, with a goal of helping people increase happiness and productivity. Battaglia teaches at businesses, homes, schools and convalescent homes. She also teaches classes on Thursdays, 4:50 p.m., at Paradise’s Positive I studio, 6653 Clark Road. Find Battaglia on Facebook under her name or Laughter Yoga, or call her at 624-7075.

What is the main purpose of laughter yoga?

To empower people with unconditional love, self worth and inner peace. I understand depression and think we should all feel love. There’s always something in life wanting to hurt you. I call it “the hand of shit,” and laughter is the best healer.

What techniques do you use?

It’s not traditional yoga. There is some rhythmic stretching and deep breathing, but mostly it’s visualization, eye contact and laughter games. I also use props like a banana or stuffed animals to increase levity and interaction.

What inspired you to start?

One of my biggest inspirations is a man from India, Dr. Madan Kataria, who wrote a book called Laugh for No Reason. He saw amazing mental and physical improvements from laughter. He taught that if we “fake it till we make it,” we can do or be anything.

Where have you had success?

At Chapman schools, Magalia Pet Hospital and weekend music festivals like Wild Mountain Fair, Sacred Movement and Cognitive Awakening. At Chapman schools, the kids felt low and their laughter was gone. I feel like I gave them love and light, and they wanted to learn again.

How do you help businesses?

By having the people at the top laugh with the people at the bottom, so they see they’re all the same. Laughing during stressful job situations gives you great, endless energy and that’s when you do your best work.

How it has helped your life?

Two years ago, my brother Robert Battaglia was [killed] by the police, who … didn’t know how to handle people with mental health issues. Another case like that just happened locally. For two years, I had anxiety and depression. My brother loved laughter, healing and meditation, and during a meditation he came to me in my deepest, darkest moment. His eyes met mine and filled me with rainbows and made me realize I should keep seeing the light and laughing, even for no reason at all. He made me know that I am doing what I should be doing.